GUEST POST

Angie Atkinson Whittemore runs marathons, surfs, takes classes on ancient religions just for fun, and is one of the most genuine and genuinely cool people you’ll ever meet. She and her husband Ajay live in Tampa.

No one could forget Jared Bybee’s post last year about the worst Christmas present he ever received. The vision of a horrified boy trying on his nylon NFL jacket still makes me laugh. That is, until I remember that just a few years ago I gave the worst Christmas present ever.

Christmas 2006.

Ajay and I had been married a year and a half. He worked as a criminal prosecutor for the State of Florida, everyday surrounded by the dregs of society. He brought home stories of robbery and rape, and after telling them would draw the blinds to the floor and double and triple check the locks. He sat upright in bed at the sound of stirrings outside. It wasn’t until after a convicted criminal taunted Ajay that he “would have the last laugh later,” however, that he began talking about getting a gun.

I was not a fan of lethal weapons. Even though I listened to Ajay’s stories, my father was not a hunter and I had not grown up around guns. Ajay’s dad didn’t have guns either, but his fellow state employees, not surprisingly, did. November rolled around, and despite my better judgment I decided to buy my husband a gun for Christmas. It was a gift that he would not expect, so I would achieve the element of surprise, but even better, it was something that I considered selfless, since it required sacrifice. I fancied myself the modern version of O. Henry’s loving Della.

I searched online for the nearest gun shop and finally ended up at the Ammo Attic. It was a two-story wooden building made to resemble a giant barn. After finding a space among the trucks in the parking lot I entered the store, which was draped with camouflage and smelled of dirt and dog. Clueless, I roamed the aisles of hunting vests and other redneck paraphernalia until an oversized man in large denim overalls called to me from behind a glass case of ammunition.

“Can I help you, sweetheart?” He wore a course beard and a black military hat, and spoke in a backwoods Southern accent.

“I want to buy a gun.” The words sounded foreign as they left my mouth.

“Sure, hon. Handgun or a rifle?”

I hadn’t considered this. “Um, one for protection,” I said, and explained, “It’s for my husband for Christmas.”

As luck would have it, we spent Christmas at the Whittemores’ that year—our first with his family. Ajay’s sisters favored us with a lovely piano duet. His father read aloud the nativity story. After singing carols, we at last sat quietly in the living room with a present on each lap. One by one, the gifts were unwrapped. Each in turn, wool socks, a homemade scarf and a book all complimented the tone of quiet Christmas observance.

And now came Ajay’s turn. Lifting the long cardboard box that I had wrapped, he began to peel the paper away from its edges. As the room became quiet, I grew uneasy. He curiously peered inside the package before looking up at me with raised eyebrows.

“What is it?” his younger sister asked excitedly.

“It’s a gun,” he said.

There was a gasp.  I felt my face go hot, and I shifted in my seat, not wanting to look up. The awkwardness began to mount.  I kept my eyes on Ajay. Seeing my expression, he whispered, “That was really nice of you.” I wanted to snatch the box and run away with it.

His mom then encouraged, “You wanted a gun, didn’t you Ajay.”

“Yeah, I did,” he said. “That was really nice of Angie.”

His sisters were silent. The youngest stared at the box, blinking stiffly. Another sister smiled, but the disapproval in her eyes was clear. (We didn’t learn until later that she was a budding gun opponent.) The moment dragged on. The air in the room seemed heavy and warm. I was sweating. To my relief, Ajay didn’t remove the weapon from its box, choosing instead to leaf quietly through the manual. Finally the youngest sister said, “It’s my turn” and the rotation resumed.

The tension melted away as cheery boxes of raspberry jam, sheet music and even more knitted scarves were opened, all welcome distractions from the Mossberg pistol grip 12-gauge lying in its box on the floor.

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